Long Beach artist draws from experience as farmworker

Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Long Beach artist draws from experience as farmworker
Oaxacan-born artist, Narsiso Martinez, depicts intimate vignettes on discarded produce boxes to shed light on the lives of migrant farmworkers.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Narsiso Martinez grew up painting portraits of his neighbors in Oaxaca, Mexico. Now, his portraits are being showcased at the Long Beach Museum of Art Downtown.

"Having a show at a museum is a difficult thing to get on your artist resume and there are people in this world that deserve that," said Executive Director of LBMA, Ron Nelson.

Martinez's canvas is discarded produce boxes stacked upon a palette. At first glance, it might look like a delivery waiting to be unloaded. Take a closer look and you'll see intimate vignettes of farm workers.

The Oaxacan-born artist was inspired by his experience as a farm worker in Washington state.

"I started thinking about the negative rhetoric from politicians about Latinos at this time and I decided to make imagery that would show the contribution of this community to the economy," Martinez said.

Martinez moved to the Los Angeles area from Mexico when he was 18. His first goal in the US was to learn the language. The second goal was art school.

After his first semester studying art at Cal State Long Beach, Martinez had trouble making ends meet.

"I almost gave up. Then I talked to my brothers, who were living in Washington state working the fields," Martinez said. "They gave me the idea."

Martinez skipped a semester to work the fields in eastern Washington state, picking cherries, asparagus, apples and other produce.

"I'm not going to say it was all nice and beautiful because there was so much struggle," Martinez said.

Each year, Martinez spent summers in Washington as a farm worker with his brothers. Martinez graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2012, and a Masters of Fine Arts in 2018.

Martinez hopes a positive message comes through his work.

"We all have dreams, aspirations, family, kids - who we want to be successful in life, right. And a lot of the times, hate doesn't allow that to happen or it makes it difficult to happen."

He added that migrant farm workers deserve to be treated fairly.

"They are an important to the economy," said Martinez. "They literally they pick the food we consume, so why not give them a chance?"

Martinez's work, titled Friends in Freshness, can be found in the Collecting Long Beach exhibit at Long Beach Museum of Art Downtown. The exhibit runs September 8 through November 3.